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India: Assamese Protest Bill to Grant Citizenship to Bangladeshi Hindus

Jhumur Deb
Guwahati, India
2016-10-18
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Members of All Assam Students Union in Guwahati, India, protest a bill that aims to grant Indian citizenship to Hindu refugees from Bangladesh, Oct. 18, 2016.
Members of All Assam Students Union in Guwahati, India, protest a bill that aims to grant Indian citizenship to Hindu refugees from Bangladesh, Oct. 18, 2016.
Jhumur Deb/BenarNews

More than 25 ethnic organizations in northeast India’s Assam state on Tuesday launched a statewide protest against a bill that would grant citizenship to Hindu migrants from Bangladesh.

The Citizenship (Amendment) Bill of 2016 directly conflicts with the 1985 Assam Accord that deems any person – Hindu or Muslim – illegal if found entering the state from Bangladesh after March 24, 1971, protesters said. The bill is slated to be presented for debate in the Indian parliament next month. It gives the right of citizenship to Hindus who claim they are fleeing persecution in Muslim-majority Bangladesh, Pakistan and Afghanistan.

Assam shares 263 km (163.4 miles) of its border with Bangladesh. Of that, about 144 km (89.4 miles) is land and 119 km (74 miles) is river.

“Each and every Bangladeshi has to leave Assam. There cannot be a selective approach. We are committed to protect the Assam Accord, which stipulates that anyone illegally entering Assam has to be deported to the countries of origin,” Atul Bora of Asom Gana Parishad (AGP), an anti-immigrant group, told BenarNews.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) introduced the bill nearly two years ago.

“If passed, the bill would give the right of Indian citizenship to over 150,000 Bangladeshi Hindus who are currently residing in Assam and many more that would enter without any valid documents. That would mean loss of jobs for the local Assamese population and loss of our culture to Bengali-speaking immigrants,” Bora said.

Bora’s AGP is linked to a local student group that spearheaded anti-Bangladeshi agitation that led to the deaths of nearly 2,200 people in the early 1980s. The violence ended with the signing of the accord between the government and the influential All Assam Students Union (AASU).

The new protests are aimed at getting the government to drop the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, said a member of the AASU.

“Assam has already taken the burden of lot of refugees during partition and thereafter. The state cannot be a dumping ground for illegal Bangladeshis,” Samajjul Bhattacharya, a union member, told BenarNews.

Divide and rule policy

The Indian National Congress, the BJP’s principal opposition party, also threatened to join the statewide stir.

“Modi is saying Hindus are being targeted in Bangladesh, so he wants to give them shelter. We will oppose this bill tooth and nail,” Tarun Gogoi, Assam’s former chief minister from the Congress, told BenarNews.

Muslim leaders also are criticizing the BJP over the bill.

“BJP is a communal party and they want to implement the notorious agenda to divide people on religious lines. Granting citizenship to only Hindus who migrated from Bangladesh is a step toward that,” Hafiz Ahmed, president of the Char Chapori Organization, which works for the development of people living in the river border areas, told BenarNews.

Sahadev Das, president of the Assam chapter of the Nikhil Bharat Bengali Udbastu Samanay Samiti (NBBUSS), an Assam-based organization fighting for the cause of Bangladeshi Hindus, disagreed.

“Religious persecution in Bangladesh makes it impossible for Hindus to go back. For years we have been demanding that Bangladeshi Hindus be granted not just refugee status but Indian citizenship. By allowing Bangladeshi Hindus to continue to stay in India without valid papers, India has come half way to fulfill that demand,” Das told BenarNews.

He was referring to a decision by the Indian government to allow Hindu refugees who have entered India legally from Bangladesh and Pakistan before Dec. 31, 2014, to keep staying in the country indefinitely.

‘Natural home for Hindus’

The BJP, however, defended its move, saying the bill would ensure that Assam does not become a Muslim-majority state.

“India is a natural home for persecuted Hindus. Where will they go? And granting citizenship to Hindu Bengalis will benefit Assam as it would stop Muslims from becoming [a] majority,” Himanta Biswa Sarma, BJP’s senior cabinet minister, told BenarNews.

According to a 1998 report by the governor of Assam, the state’s Muslim population grew by 77 percent compared with the national average of 55 percent between 1971 and 1991, indicating large-scale cross-border migration.

But political observers see this move by the BJP government as a strategy to better the party’s prospects to create a Hindu vote bank.

A post-poll survey following BJP’s election victory in the state in May showed the party commanded 63 percent of votes from Assamese Hindus because of its stand against illegal Muslim immigrants from Bangladesh. The survey, conducted by international polling agency Cvoter, also revealed that almost 70 percent of Bengali-speaking Hindus in the state voted for the BJP.

“It (the bill) is a clear attempt by the BJP government to further polarize the state on communal lines. The party is trying to create a vote bank of Hindus by appeasing them through such moves,” Monirul Hussain, a Guwahati-based political analyst, told BenarNews.

“Modi should realize [that] Assamese people, who feel very strongly against the Bangladeshi migrant issue, voted for his party when he promised that he will flush out every Bangladeshi from the state. And now he is trying to tweak the core clause of the Assam Accord to grant citizenship to the Hindu Bangladeshis living in Assam. Those votes by the ethnic Assamese to the party will vanish as quickly as they came,” Hussain said.

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Nava Thakuria

from guwahati, india

To,
Shri Banwarilal Purohit,
Hon’ble Governor of Assam,
Raj Bhawan,
Kharguli, Guwahati-781004
Dated: Guwahati,29 October 2016

Your Excellency,
Warm greetings from the Patriotic People’s Front Assam (PPFA).
We would like to bring to your kind attention some of the recent misleading and manipulative statements by some individuals and organizations on the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill 2016 issue. We are shocked that these groups of vested interests are trying to communalise the issue instead of helping to find an amicable solution.
The extremely volatile utterances targeting the Hindu minority community of Assam is deplorable and condemnable to say the least. We are from this land of glorious civilization & culture and we feel that our spirit should be that of accommodation of Hindu, Buddhists and other religious minorities who have had to face extreme suppression in erstwhile East Pakistan (now Bangladesh) and also West Pakistan and have been the true victims of partition of India. We would like to take this opportunity to highlight the historical truth that cannot and should not be forgotten and which will attempt to build an honest perspective on the issue of who is a ‘foreigner’ in Assam which has been a touchy and thorny issue since long.

Hence, we must all look back and see what transpired in 1942 when Mahatma Gandhi called for the 'Quit India' movement. The Muslim League raised another slogan 'Divide India And Quit'. In 1946, the
'Pakistan' demand of Muslim league was accompanied by 'Direct Action' or the violent communal riots like the 'Great Calcutta killing' where nearly 5000 people were killed or massacred in only 4 days. Assam's eminent poet Amulya Barua was one of the victims in that killing field.

History bears witness to the fact that Muslims of undivided India that followed the ideology of Muslim League and who wanted a separate homeland for the Muslims were granted Pakistan and thus they became ‘foreigners’ to Indians. In fact the moment they created a foreign land for themselves they lost their rights to get into India again without passports or related legal documents. So, post 15 August 1947 India, all those chose to live in Pakistan (including East Pakistan) was legally foreigners. However, history is also witness to the fact that the minority Hindus, Shikhs, Christians, Buddhists who were left behind in Pakistan were continuing to face brutal suppression at the hands of the new non-secular government, which prompted the Prime Minister of Independent India Jawaharlal Nehru to issue a historic statement in Parliament that non-Muslims would be safe and secure in Pakistan as both the new nations pledged to be good and friendly neighbours. However, Nehru also declared in the Parliament that if, in future, non-Muslims felt unsafe and insecure in Pakistan due to religious or communal persecutions, they would be always welcome in India and they would not be treated as 'foreigners' in India.
It is indeed a matter of great satisfaction that the Union government in New Delhi has taken steps lately to provide shelter to these 'Victims of Partition' all over the country following a process of equal distribution. In fact, it is a long pending moral responsibility which India should have shouldered much earlier (soon after Nehru made the promise in the Parliament).
But better late than never, and we must all support the government’s action to give citizenship rights to the victims of Partition who have taken shelter in India from Pakistan and Bangladesh till 2014. We must
not forget that among these people are many whose ancestors also fought and sacrificed their lives along with many others for an independent India, which has made us free citizens of an independent nation today. Let all of us be grateful to them.
We are also fully aware that since the formation of Bangladesh and the assassination of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman in 1975, Bangladesh made Islam the State religion setting into motion the persecution of minority non-Muslims. In Bangladesh, the Hindus include Bengali, Rajbongshi, Hajong, Adivasi, Jayantiya and Bishnupriya communities, Buddhists (represented by Chakmas) and some Assamese people also, who fled to the Chittagong hill areas during the Burmese invasion. The Christians include Bengali, Garo, Khasi and Adivasi people. All these people became the victims of 'Pakistan Plan' and the 'Partition and had to therefore live in a 'foreign land,’ for the creation, of which they were not at all responsible.
So, under no circumstances these people can be termed as 'foreigners'. The foreigners are those who created the 'foreign land’ in the name of religion, but again these are the same group of people who are infiltrating into India, the country they hated to live in, before 1947 for reasons best known to them. If the history of Partition is properly studied, we can clearly understand who these ‘Foreigners’ are and who are the actual 'Victims of Partition' and who came to India to protect their religions, cultures and their lives.
However, we have no intentions of communalizing the issue but we want to provide a clear understanding of how history unfolded lest some vested interests and parochial mindsets for their own narrow political gains and cheap mileage would continue to resort to disturb the peace and tranquil atmosphere of Assam. There is a need for a solution to this vexed issue and we would fully agree if those that have been truly victimized owing to partitions and religious persecution are given a place not just in Assam but in different parts of India, a country where the underlying tenets of democracy are tolerance, secularism and freedom of religion, faith, practice and freedom of expression.

Finally, we also raise our voices for a concrete refugee policy for India so that we can deal with the issue of immigrants logically and legally. We sincerely believe India should sign the 1951 United Nations Refugee Convention. Moreover, our government has to ratify the 1967 Protocol relating to the status of refugees.

With Regards,
Dr Nirode K Barooah (Cologne, Germany)
Dr Rabin Dev Choudhury
Giripada Dev Choudhury
Dhirendra Nath Chakravarty
Rupam Barua
Utpal Dutta
Namrata Dutta
Jagadindra Ray Choudhury
Dipannita Jaiswal
Bidhayak Das
Nava Thakuria
Vavani Sarmah (Washington DC, USA)
Kalyan Dutta-Choudhury (Berkeley, USA)
Dr. AK Rai (BHU Varanasi)
Manju Bora
Pranjal Saikia
Braja Joyti Sharma
Jahnabi Goswami
Girindra Kumar Karjee
Jitul Sonowal
Bobita Sarma
Tarali Chakrabarty

Oct 29, 2016 10:41 AM

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